Goodbye 2020 – and what a year it was…

As many other bloggers do at this time of year, I thought I’d end with pictures… Notably, there will be few of travel or meals out, social gatherings and/or attendance at big events.

This year like no other has been frightening, tedious, frustrating, anger-inducing and plain weird. But, and it’s a big but, I am fortunate not to have lost anyone to Covid, nor fallen ill myself and my work, both the part-time job and the freelance gigs I do, continues. The economic fall-out hasn’t hit me yet, though I will not emerge unaffected when the recession kicks in.

If we’re counting silver linings, the A82 outside our house was blissfully quiet for weeks. I appreciated the novelty value of being in the same boat as so many other human beings world-wide, all of us united against this common enemy. And not spending nearly as much money as I would in a normal year proved a useful lesson on how little I really need.

Anyway, in the long-ago innocent days of January, Sandy and I were still adjusting to life with two cats, Lucy and William. Adopted from the SSPCA Milton Animal Home at the end of December, the cats got to spend a lot of time with us in 2020, what with the lack of holidays, days out, nights out and me working from home. As is always the case with cats, it’s hard to tell if they appreciated all that attention or not.

In February, as the news of the pandemic’s arrival in Europe came in, everything still felt okay-ish in the UK. My Catalan friend reminds me they were warning then that the exact scenario was coming for us while we all blithely assumed it wasn’t. With any luck, next year will see the well overdue death of British exceptionalism.

In March, we went to Chester for my birthday. There was a lot of umm-ing and ah-ing. Should we go? Organisers were cancelling the big events—Six Nations rugby matches, Glasgow’s Aye Write festival—but the Government wasn’t giving direct orders. We packed face masks, home-made hand sanitiser (by this time sold out in shops) and jumped on the train.

The highlights were an informative walking tour of Chester and some memorable meals. But the biggest thrill was a trip to Chester Zoo. The painted dogs, the lions, the tiger and the black jaguar (where I got as close as I’m ever likely to a big cat) all of them blissfully unaware of human troubles.

At the end of March and into April, full lockdown set in. Luckily, the weather that month was outstanding. Yes, even in Scotland. Walking took the place of almost every other leisure activity. That, and Zoom meet-ups which were an exciting novelty at that point. (I can’t be alone in wishing that I never have to use Zoom ever again once this is all over.)

We all did the quizzes and the words, “We can’t hear you—you’re on mute”, the defining phrase of 2020, along with the words furlough, lockdown and coronavirus itself. That and waving at people on-screen. Name me the in-person meeting you’ve ever attended where people wave at each other. You can’t? Thought not.

My mum’s was the first family birthday we held via Zoom—everyone putting on their make-up and fancy earrings in lieu of dressing up.

Outdoor drinking – also a hobby we cultivated par excellence in 2020…

May’s weather remained equally cheering. My husband’s hobbies, established just before this year, saw him in good stead. Home brewing, outdoor cooking and gardening are perfect for lockdown times. Everyone else thought so too. Homebrew kits ran out, as did all gardening and outdoor cooking equipment. Hot tubs and gazebos sold out.

By the time July arrived, there was a giddy feeling of ‘first day of the holidays’ when we travelled to St Andrew for a couple of nights as soon as the restrictions were lifted in Scotland. After months of not seeing them, I met with my mum and partner, and my sisters and their families, for fish and chips bought from a place doing a roaring trade. We ate them in the gardens of Madras College while the sun shone.

Most of the tourist attractions in St Andrews were still closed—the golf museum, the castle and the gardens—but we spent a nice afternoon on the beach watching other freedom seekers sending kites up into the skies and dodging the hundreds of jellyfish marooned on the shores.

Be careful what you order…

For Sandy’s birthday in August, we booked a meal at a small, local Indian restaurant attached to a takeaway. Thanks to Covid restrictions, we were the only people in it, the take-away owner darting back and forth between the takeaway business and us. He put music on, left us with ice buckets for the booze we’d brought with us and the evening took on a sparkly magical quality.

In September, the universities returned though my immediate colleagues and I were still working from home. Cases and hospital admissions rose sharply once more, and we were more or less back in lockdown in our area… Sandy and I managed a trip to Perth, the weekend bright and sunny. Scone Palace was the highlight this time. Stately homes with their big rooms can manage Covid-style restrictions, everyone in the guided tour party spreading out as the guide does her best to explain the treasures of each room while masked.

October, November, December—more of the same. A few highlights. Saturday 7 November when the election was finally declared for Biden. An online cheese and wine tasting we did (Comte, Goat’s Cheese and Pecorino in case you’re interested in the cheeses sampled) and winning a writing award for my paranormal story, Beautiful Biters.

Christmas turned out surprisingly well. We visited my mum and her partner in the morning for a walk, then in the afternoon entertained Sandy’s mum and her partner—two doorstep visits by other family members interspersed in between.

Everyone knows the best bit of Christmas dinner is living off weird combinations of leftovers for the next week, and we had tonnes of food waiting in line for its turn to star thanks to a smaller than usual celebration. I’m still mainlining the herby sausage and apple stuffing, serving up creamy baked leeks with Yorkshire puddings and pairing turkey curry with roast potatoes.

The pigs in blankets, I’m sorry to say, didn’t make it beyond Christmas Day…

Back in March when lockdown started, naïve me assumed it would all be over by Christmas. Sometimes, I look around me—everyone masked in the supermarket, the social distancing signs dotted everywhere, the testing station that was positioned outside our council office for weeks, the limits on travel and the empty trains and busses that pass you—and try to guess what the 2019 Emma would have made of it all.

No, she wouldn’t have had the imagination to come up with this year. A year like no other, unprecedented, weird times, etc., I can throw in all those words… they still don’t seem adequate to describe it.

Anyway, here it is now almost at an end, although the pandemic in our country is far from over and likely to worsen. But I still want to raise a glass to you and yours, and hope that together we get through the next few months and emerge from this experience more thoughtful, kinder, determined to join together with our fellow citizens and hold to account governments where necessary and willing to push for green recovery deals that favour the masses and not the few…

Here’s to you! Happy New Year.

#smallpleasures in lockdown

Greetings from lockdown Scotland where we are still officially staying at home while our English chums have been encouraged to return to work if they can’t work from home.

But not if they use public transport and only if they stay alert. Or something.

File:M&S Food to Go, SUTTON, Surrey, Greater London.jpg ...This week’s treat on the #smallpleasuresmatter front was going to be a trip to Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food in Dumbarton. Boy, was I salivating at the thought… ooh, I’ll stare at the deli stuff and toss a dozen or so of those dinky little tubs in my basket! Perhaps they’ll have their marvellous dine in offer on, where I get a main course, two sides, pudding and a bottle of wine for a mere £12!

Hummus! Smoked Salmon! Cornish Cruncher Cheddar! The world’s best looking fruit!

Then, a news item popped up about how many diabetics were among the frighteningly high numbers of COVID-19 dead in this country. I reassessed the wisdom of coming into contact with that many people.

Oh well. Trump’s promising us a vaccine by the end of the year so maybe I’ll get to Marks & Spencer’s in time to stock up for Christmas*.

#smallpleasures2

In other news, Sandy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary earlier this week. Not with a meal out, obviously, but by walking around his golf course on a beautiful sunny day, sitting outside in the garden and drinking champagne, and rounding it all off with a nice meal.

And a short story I wrote earlier this year has been picked for a paid anthology that will be available on Wattpad later this summer. For the first time in my life, I signed a publishing contract. I even read it before e-scrawling my name on the dotted line.

Finally, after a lot of helpful feedback I have rewritten chunks of Highland Chances and hope to publish it in mid-June. Ebook sales have grown considerably, as you might expect seeing as many bookshops are shut worldwide and people aren’t ordering as many paperback deliveries from Amazon et al. I’ve noticed my own sales have increased, though I’m far off any time where I chuck the day job.

Here’s a picture of the lovely cover Enni Tuomisalo of yummybookcovers designed and the blurb.

3D book cover for Highland Chances by Emma Baird feel good fiction stories

“But, but, but what will you do with Highland Tours! No, not Highland Tours. Highland Handsome Tours, remember? Best Outlander experience in Scotland. You, number three on ‘the man my partner would give me a free pass to sleep with’ list and I don’t even mind!”

The Lochside Welcome is at the heart of Lochalshie—where the villagers gather to meet, gossip and eat Scotland’s finest pizzas.

Now, it’s under threat. The landlord’s ill, business has dropped away frighteningly quickly and the hotel at the end of the village keeps muscling in, scooping up tourists, weddings and even locals…

Can Gaby and Jack save the day? What with the ever-increasing work demands, rival hotel owners not above dirty tactics and the small matter of a life-changing event our couple are woefully ill-prepared for, it’s all hands on deck to try to ensure the Lochside Welcome survives another day…

If you love heart-warming, frothy fiction which comes with a side order of laughs, you’re in the right place.

Highland Chances is available for pre-order here.

 

*Like most sensible folks, I believe nothing that comes out of that buffoon’s mouth.

Writing in lockdown

What day is it—March the 97th as someone asked recently? One set of 24 hours segues into the next with little to differentiate them.

COVID-19—you’ve well outstayed your welcome on planet Earth. Not that we wanted you in the first place.

But boredom and confining ourselves to our homes is a tiny price to pay when the alternative is mass infection and deaths. So far, I know five people who have had the virus and recovered. No-one close to me has died. Fingers crossed tightly that continues.

Small pleasures…

The powers that be have now deemed it okay to get in your car and drive a short distance to a local beauty spot to go for a walk. My husband has promised me a trip to his golf course and a meander over it.

One of the regulars at my online Pilates class is now a grandma. We clapped. She has seen the baby from a distance.

Any meal I make that involves a creative reimagining of ingredients retrieved from the freezer or the back of cupboards (one year old? More?).

3D book cover for Highland Chances by Emma Baird feel good fiction storiesThis new and beautiful cover for the latest novel in my Highland Books series, Highland Chances… the graphic designer who made it for me is herself finishing off her latest book—a chick lit novel that features people travelling to New Zealand and working in cafes and bars, etc.

Did it now count, she asked, as historical romance?

Highland Chances, coincidentally, touches a lot on working from home. But similar to my designer friend, the book also has that feel of a time that will not return for months if not years. People in pubs. Large gatherings. Big parties in offices. Shaking hands with strangers*.

Some weeks ago, the radio station I listen to (BBC Radio 1—I’m way, way out of their target demographic) featured a couple of stories of people who’d only been dating for a few weeks when the lockdown kicked in.

As a writer, I found that impossible to resist, even though it feels crass and exploitative… But hey, writing is truly narcissistic. That urge to put it down on paper (well, the screen) overrides everything.

Anyway, here’s the intro:

The Leap of Faith

Things I don’t know about Tom:

  • What he takes in his coffee. If he likes coffee.
  • Who he voted for in the last election. Though I think I can guess.
  • When he came to Scotland.
  • His romantic history. A childhood sweetheart? A steady girlfriend up until now? Serial monogamy? Sexual encounters too numerous to list?
  • If he has siblings. His position in the family. (As the youngest child in a family of high achievers, I place a lot of stock in older/younger sibling dynamics and how that shapes you.)
  • His second name.

And yet tomorrow we are moving in together. More specifically, Tom will pack his bags into an old Ford Focus, drive the 35 minutes it takes to cross the city (less now we are in lockdown?) where I will welcome him with open arms. And try not to bleat, “Wipe your feet!” if he doesn’t do it automatically the second he enters my home.

Modern life, hmm? That old Abba classic keeps playing in my head, Take a Chance on Me. My family and friends queue up behind me, their expressions astonished. “Sophs! You’re, like, the least impulsive person ever! Why are you doing this?”

My brother nods his head fervently. My sister threatens a visitation. One where we conduct a two metres apart conversation. It takes place. I stand in the doorway and she yells at me from the garden gate, teenage daughter in tow, her phone in hand. She glances up briefly. “Yo, Aunt!” I sketch her a wave and hope it counts as cool in her world.

“Sophie!” my sister shrieks. “What do you know about this guy? He’ll have Googled you, you idiot! I bet he’s rubbing his hands together in glee.”

Her words are nothing I haven’t already said to myself. My mum’s face shimmers in front of me. Dark hair streaked with grey and wide-tipped glasses she pushes up her nose all the time. Her mouth twitches. “Well,” she says, “this is a turn up for the books! Devil may care. I love it!” In my head, she blows me a kiss. My eyes prickle.

I close my door, thanking Josie for her concern. Darla winks at me. Fifteen-year-old approval. I wait till her mother has turned to point her key at the car and wink back. Darla lifts her phone and mouths something at me. ‘Tell me what happens, yeah?’ my best guess.

The timing couldn’t be better though. As Josie’s ginormous pristine Land Rover pulls away, a dusty black Ford Focus slowly edges its way along the street, its driver alternately peering down and up—the universal look of someone using his phone to find an address.

I wave. He stops.

“Tom!” My enthusiasm is double, treble, quadruple what it might have been. Blame it on Josie. “Welcome to my humble abode.”

He gets out of his car and swears—the f-word too loud in our now traffic-subdued streets. “Jesus!” he says, the Irish accent turning it into Jayzus. “I’d no idea you were that grand.”

Things Tom doesn’t know about me.

Everything.

Thanks for reading! Highland Chances is now available for pre-order at Amazon here, and if you want to find out if Sophie and Tom’s fledgling relationship makes it, you can read the story for free on Wattpad.

© Emma Baird 2020

*Someone suggested that we employ the late 18th/early 19th century methods of greeting people a la Jane Austen from now on—a courtly bow or a small curtsey. An excellent idea, hmm?

Lockdown laughs

How is everyone finding the almost worldwide lockdown? I hope you and the ones you love are safe and well and finding ways to make this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in bearable.

I’m extremely fortunate. I don’t live in a city, and I have access to a garden and the internet. Interestingly enough, I’ve never spoken to so many people in such a short space of time. From phone chats where I catch up with people I never usually call, to the Zoom meetings that are now a regular part of many people’s lives, I’m grateful for the technology I have at my fingertips. I’m doing online Pilates, yoga and Spanish classes, and every day my family and I catch-up to exchange news

(Much of which is taken up by discussion of what we will be having for dinner—food and the state of our supermarkets the now national obsession. That and what everyone is binge-watching on iPlayer or Netflix.)

And of course there is the new neighbourliness where we chat over fences and wave at each other every Thursday night when we stand outside and clap for the carers.

Anyway, if you are seeking a bit of distraction, I’ve rounded up a few light-hearted spoiler-free extracts from my next book, Highland Chances due out 1 June.

Stay safe everyone.

The perils of online planning

“Same. Can we skip the pub quiz and…?” He paused, finger and thumb gripping the tiny brush and glanced up to catch my eye, dirty grin in place. His other hand slid up my bare leg, fingers sure and warm.

When we got married, I wondered if that would kill lust stone dead. Didn’t couples moan all the time that the wedding ring acted like a chastity belt? In a previous job, my colleagues and I once stumbled on our boss’s online calendar, the one she’d not made as private as she should. Sunday mornings 8-8.30am were highlighted—SEX WITH GREG. She’d added a 15-minute-in-advance text alert too. Josh, the guy I worked with, changed the day to Tuesdays and shortened the time slot to ten minutes. Not sure how that worked out for them.

A hazy grasp of geography

Canada,flag,map,country,nationality - free image from needpix.com

“Oh shut up! He still should hae asked, shouldn’t he? I want a proper boyfriend!”

News to me. Katya, who’d also lived with Mhari once upon a time, reckoned Mhari preferred other people’s love lives to her own. All that opportunity to ask personal questions and not bother with the complicated bits yourself.

“What about Xavier? He’s nice, isn’t he?”

A big sniff. “Dinnae be daft. He’s no’ gonnae stay here. When we leave the EU, he’ll need tae go back tae Canada.”

“Canada isn’t in Europe, Mhari.”

“Is it no’? Anyway, he’s loads younger than me.”

Four years. The same age gap as her and Hyun-Ki. I referred to this. A drunken explanation that this was exactly why she wasnae going to waste her time on younger men. Shallow. Totes immature. She ended the last statement with a loud fart, which made the two of us giggle for ages.

The scramble for freebies

Rubber Stamps Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures

Carnage. A mad scramble started up straight away as hands darted everywhere, trying to snaffle the freebies. Angus ended up with his back to everyone, body hunched over the table to protect the bags. Several of the women tried illegal Rugby scrum moves on him that would have got them blacklisted from the game. He put up with it for a few minutes before straightening up and bellowing, “Oi! Stop that!”

Angus was six foot five and twice the width of me. The yell worked, the crowd of women retreating expressions cowed.

He folded his arms. “Now, everyone of ye is gonnae queue nicely, show us your ticket tae the games and say ‘thank ye very much’ when Gaby and Jamal here hand ower the bags. Agreed?”

Fervent nods from the crowd.

“Anyone who doesnae,” he growled, “will be thrown in the loch.”

Two women looked far too delighted at the prospect of a dookin’. “Does that mean you would put us over your shoulder?” one asked, her smile gleeful.

“And,” her friend threw in, “spank our bottoms?”

“No!”

If you would like a reminder of when my next book is out, please feel free to sign up for my newsletter via pinkglitterpubs@gmail.com and I’ll give you a free short story in return. All my ebooks are available for free from your local library. Most libraries are closed at present, but you should still be able to borrow ebooks.